Rhymes and Raps: Rethinking National Poetry Month
When you think of National Poetry Month, you probably think of folks like Robert Frost, Edgar Allan Poe and William Shakespeare. As a teacher, you probably think of having your scholars make acrostic poems or try their hand at the dreaded sonnet. But I believe poetry can be so much more than the "classics" we've taught year after year--especially as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of National Poetry Month. With new influencers like Amanda Gorman and Rupi Kaur coming onto the scene in the last few years, the idea of what is poetry and who is considered a poet is evolving.
In my book, Simon B. Rhymin', my main character finds his voice through rapping. He learns how to rhyme, find his meter and flow, and express himself through his word choice; all skills the best rappers use to create musical power and beauty that can change lives and perspectives. Why can't Queen Latifah and Chance the Rapper be up there with Walt Whitman and William Wordsworth for the rhymes and rhythms they drop? Like Simon, I found my voice through rapping when I was a kid in Chicago trying to express myself. In the same way that poetry helped Emily Dickinson find her voice, rapping helps modern children and teens make sense of their world and how they feel about it.
As we look back on promoting poetry and its influence for the last 25 years, I hope we all broaden our view of what poetry can be--and how there are so many more forms of it beyond what is in our textbooks. We've all got 99 problems but celebrating the diversity of poetry shouldn't be one. --Dwayne Reed
Dwayne Reed is the author of Simon B. Rhymin', a teacher in Chicago and an educational advocate.